Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hand and Foot (Ball)

Sunday February 1 was a major sports day here in France as it was in the U.S. Devoted sports fans could spend Sunday afternoon watching the world handball championships, and, having taken a nap, tune in at midnight for a live broadcast of the Super Bowl. Le Super Bowl, ce n’est pas un gros saladier ( "The super bowl is not a gigantic container for salad") explained one commentator.

Subsequent television news shows, ignoring many possible leads (the economic crisis, Somali pirates, smoldering Gaza, Iraqi elections) began and ended with sports stories. The first, of great importance here, was the victory which made the French team, already Olympic gold medal winners, world handball champions.

The last story featured the victory of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl (it’s a game not a piece of dinnerware). In between, were all those other pesky possible stories dealing with other goings on in the world.

Les Steelers dans la légende
Santonio Holmes et Ben Roethlisberger se congratulent après le touchdown décisif

Les Steelers sont devenus la franchise la plus titrée de l'histoire de la NFL en remportant une 6e fois le Superbowl.

The two ball games, hand and foot, are valued differently. Handball is a major sport here, as is evidenced by the coverage given to the world championships. There is a French League of American Football, the FFFA (Fédération Française de Football Américain) but it is a marginal presence on the French sports scene. The U.S., similarly, has a handball league and an olympic team, but the sport is not yet a major attention getter.

Handball which is sort of water polo without the water, is called, in French, handball. Why they use the English word, I’m not sure. What I do know is that its pronunciation follows the rule enunciated by my French teacher wife: If it’s an English word adopted directly, it will be impossible to understand when it comes out of the mouth of a French person.

However they pronounce it, it may be that they have held on to the English term because it makes a nice parallel with basketball (the French are great fans, especially since a Frenchman, Tony Parker, is an NBA star), and, of course football, their major sport. Local football, soccer to those of us from the land that still measures in feet and inches, can regularly be found on TV.

Whether of the hand or foot variety, a sport event to lead and close the evening news is kind of a nice break from the downer stories that have of late been dominant.

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